Several representatives of the European Union of Jewish Students recently returned from Rwanda, the central African nation where in 1994 an estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered in the space of 100 days. Most of the dead were Tutsis, and most of the perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda were Hutus. Despite the pledge of “Never Again,” following the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews in Europe during World War II, the world watched – and once again failed to act – as the Rwandan genocide unfolded.
Adam Mouchtar from Germany, program director for the European Union of Jewish Students, organized the trip to Rwanda to illustrate the points of convergence between the genocide there and the Holocaust. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Adam says it was frightening for him as a Jew to realize that genocide had happened again. And he feels a responsibility to bring the Rwandan story closer to Jewish students.
Another member of the delegation, Alex Singer, is a third-generation Holocaust survivor. She explains that the Jewish students who traveled to Rwanda were accompanied by 10 Rwandan students – themselves survivors of genocide in their country. Alon De Lima of The Netherlands, who is vice-president of the European Union of Jewish Students, says he formed a special bond with a Rwandan student exactly his age who was only 11 at the time of the slaughter of the Tutsis and was forced to survive on his own in the woods.
Adam Mouchtar says that in late June a large conference will take place at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, where the European students will lead a workshop on Rwanda. Despite the recent peace agreement in Sudan, Adam says it is hard not to be “cynical” about the situation in Darfur when once again political leaders have used the word “genocide” but have not done enough to end the humanitarian crisis.
He adds that he hopes that people in Europe will organize rallies on Darfur, as they have in the United States. Alex Singer agrees that, now that the United States has recognized the situation in Darfur as “genocide,” there is an imperative to do something more substantial.
In Europe today, Adam Mouchtar says being openly anti-Semitic is taboo. Rather, anti-Semitism is often expressed as anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli sentiment. Nonetheless, he believes one can legitimately criticize Israel without necessarily being labeled anti-Semitic, although such a distinction is often lost on both Jews and non-Jews who conflate the two. He notes that in Russia and other former Soviet states, there has been a resurgence of anti-Semitism, partly because these countries have not yet faced their own past and continue to view themselves as victims of fascism.
Regarding Jewish-Muslim relations in Europe, Alex Singer observes that in England the Jewish and Muslim communities have good relations, and there is considerable interfaith dialogue. She describes last summer’s terrorist attacks in London as focused against “the West,” not against Jews or Christians.
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